Are Divorce Records Public?

Sandi Johnson
Sandi Johnson
The fact that a divorce has taken place is public information.
The fact that a divorce has taken place is public information.

Privacy is naturally a concern for any party to a divorce proceeding. Divorces involve a great deal of personal, financial and historical information made available to the court in order for officials to render their decisions. As such, although the fact that a divorce has occurred typically is considered a matter of public record, the detailed particulars, accusations, claims and financial information generally is not. Court systems and government agencies often take care to protect individuals from unwarranted release of personal information. In some instances, only petitioners or respondents are privy to detailed divorce records.

Access to divorce records may vary depending on where the case was filed.
Access to divorce records may vary depending on where the case was filed.

There are exceptions to every rule, with divorce records being no different. Old divorce records from the early to mid-1800s for example, might be available to researchers or those performing a records search for genealogical reasons. Release of these legal documents and records is generally limited to parties who can demonstrate specific need for the information, such as descendants or legitimate researchers. In some cases, gaining access to such records requires a release by interested parties or a court order. Detailed divorce records, unlike birth certificates or other vital records, generally are not something to which the public needs access, even in research capacities.

The process of obtaining divorce records can vary from country to country. In the United States, for example, states and their regulatory bodies determine the handling of divorce records. Each state has specific requirements for granting a divorce, so access to the records also varies greatly. In most cases, a government agency keeps a record of divorces and the parties involved, but the specific court granting the divorce keeps records of the actual divorce decree or settlement information in the court clerk’s office. The level of access that the public has to information about whether a particular divorce occurred or about the details of the case will depend on the regulations in that state.

In other countries, such as England, Scotland or Ireland, the only way to access divorce records is by petitioning the agency in charge of the record. For example, in England, to obtain records for a divorce granted more than 20 years ago, one must file a petition with the National Archives. To gain access to divorce records for more current divorces, one must petition the Principle Registry of the Family Division. In both instances, the person seeking the information must provide the name of the parties involved and the reason he or she wants to view the file. The level of access permitted will be decided by the official responsible for granting permission.

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Discussion Comments

Soulfox

@Markerrag -- that's kind of like the old maxim that suggests there is a lot of difference between what is legally right and what is morally right. Some newspapers have chosen to refrain from printing details that are legally available to them based on the notion that reporting divorce filings is just somehow wrong.

Good for them.

Markerrag

Another important thing to consider is what is customary in regard to the release of information in divorce records. Some newspapers, for example, don't run them at all. They can access certain information such as who is filing for divorce and the disposition of the case, but many choose not to run any of that.

Why? The law might say that certain divorce details are a matter of public record, but local custom might suggest that privacy is an important consideration and society is not best served when such information is not released.

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    • The fact that a divorce has taken place is public information.
      By: zimmytws
      The fact that a divorce has taken place is public information.
    • Access to divorce records may vary depending on where the case was filed.
      By: Steve Morvay
      Access to divorce records may vary depending on where the case was filed.